This Friday marks the 100th day since my appointment as Acting Chairwoman of the FCC. As with any milestone, it is just as important to look back at what we’ve accomplished, as it is to look to the future. And I’m pleased to announce an agenda for our May meeting that will advance multiple measures to tackle issues that have been longstanding at the Commission.
- We’re lowering the high cost for Americans to call incarcerated loved ones. Despite evidence that regular contact with family can reduce recidivism, the 2.3 million people in U.S. jails and prisons and their loved ones often have to pay egregiously high rates to talk on the phone. This May, the Commission will vote to lower interstate phone rates by 33-to-42% for the vast majority of incarcerated people and also limit international rates for the first time. It’s been nearly two decades since Martha Wright, a grandmother who simply wanted to talk to her grandson, filed a petition calling on the FCC to do something about the high rates that incarcerated persons and their families pay to stay in touch. Next month, the Commission will take another step in addressing this longstanding issue.
- We’re strengthening a vital service for Americans who use sign language. Video Relay Services make it possible for individuals with hearing and speech impairments to connect with others. Using a broadband video link, the VRS user signs to a communications assistant, who interprets the signs by voice to the telephone user and signs the response back to the VRS user. To keep this program on solid footing, the Commission will vote on an item to extend the current VRS compensation rates through the end of 2021, while seeking comment on provider compensation for the future.
- We’re continuing to crack down on unwanted robocalls. Many of us have been duped by automated calls with “spoofed” numbers that look like they are coming from somebody in your community. For years, we’ve heard about caller ID technology known as STIR/SHAKEN that promises to authenticate phone numbers and make it easier to block fraudulent calls before they ever reach your phone. The FCC has set a deadline for most large voice providers to implement STIR/SHAKEN by June 2021, but we gave small voice providers a two-year extension to adopt this technology. Faced with new evidence that an increasing quantity of illegal robocalls are originating with a subset of small voice providers, I’ve circulated a proposal to shorten this extension for some companies who are likely to be the source of illegal robocalls.
- We’re providing regulatory relief for small phone and internet providers. When companies that receive model-based and rate-of-return universal service seek to merge, the Commission applies its “mixed support” merger condition to prevent gaming of the system. But in some circumstances applying this condition doesn’t make sense and can even get in the way of providing broadband service in rural areas. So, next month we will consider an order to clarify our policies and fix this situation.
- Lastly the Commission will consider two enforcement matters.